Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Misadventures in Recruiting - 06.08.09

Having company over can be annoying, especially when you don’t know them and they take up video gaming space to watch some crappy late-night TV. Imagine my pleasant surprise then, upon walking into the room, arcade stick in hand, to have some stranger ask “Is that Street Fighter?”

After relating a promising anecdote about staying up all night to play SF with his roommates, he accepted my challenge. While setting up 3rd Strike, my would-be opponent decided to leave for a bit and one of the girls present volunteered to step in. I explained the very basics, set her up with Ryu and started a match. As she threw out punches, I ran into the hits as seemed appropriate and occasionally pitched a fireball or two. She seemed to be enjoying herself, once even accidentally forward-grabbing my Akuma and getting a big kick out of it. Then, as my health meter was nearing bottom: “Even though you play so much, you aren’t very good.”

In retrospect, I probably should not have reacted so harshly; the plan was to let her win anyway, what did it matter what she said? Instead, I annihilated the 80% of her life remaining, going so far as finishing with a jumping Super Art 1, just for that extra humiliation.

What is it about fighting games that brings out this constant desire to assert dominance? Is it the same with all competitive endeavors? Apparently I could not even suppress the killer instinct long enough to keep her playing more than one round. Maybe it was too boring, not engaging my opponent on the mental battlefield and the provocation seemed like a chance for some entertainment. Perhaps her biting feminine wit cut to the heart of my male hunter/gatherer/fighter insecurities, baiting an over-compensatory response. Damn you, AP Lit. More likely, I lose so badly so often that it felt good to finally return the favor…by taking it out on some helpless non-gamer. Yeah, awesome. Whatever the cause, I utterly failed to maintain her interest in fighting games.

Unfortunately, this was not the last of the night’s disappointments. The guy came back shortly afterward and said that his experience was entirely with the SNES version of SFII: World Warrior. Anniversary Edition being as versatile as it is, I tried to accommodate this as much as possible.

However, as the nagging voice in my head suspected, he was not skilled. Trying to learn from the failed experiment a few minutes before, I spent most matches blocking, only punishing bad mistakes and giving advice on how to use some of the characters. At the end of the day though, as the life bars dropped, it was difficult to resist the temptation to super through a poorly spaced fireball (I switched to ST versions after a couple matches). He understandably stopped playing after five fights; no one likes being humiliated or competing with someone so far beyond their skill level that they cannot learn anything from the time invested.

Seems I am not yet comfortable enough with my meager skills to simply sit back and let an opponent have their way. The drive to fight and improve is present the instant my hands touch a controller. Being too hungry to be an effective teacher is a poor excuse, but it is all I can offer at the moment.

In my experience, the best way to play, learn and have fun is to have a sparring partner near or just above your skill level, which explains how he could go for hours with his roommate but less than 10 minutes with me. That way, both fighters can wholeheartedly battle it out over significant periods of time and still enjoy themselves, noticing the nuances of the game and devising ever-evolving strategies to counter each other. However, even in this era of internet forums and ranked online battles, the problem remains finding that person.

To be honest, I am not sure how to use this for recruiting. In my experience, non genre-fans tend not to buy 2D fighters and spread them amongst their equally unskilled friends, unless the game has the marketing push and nostalgic draw of SFIV. Even then, there is no guarantee that the people in question will really grasp, or care, about the depth offered, spend time to improve, or try similar games.

The question of expanding the audience for their games is undoubtedly one that developers and marketers struggle with all the time. In all likelihood, the answer lies in the heart of battle, er, in the hype and excitement generated by awesome events like the streamed Denjin SBO qualifiers. But that is a topic for another post, the ramble is long enough as it is. Obviously I was not expecting these two strangers to actually get into fighting games based on their brief play session, but the mistakes I made with them will hopefully lead to future success with more promising candidates.

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